7-7-7 (Day 2)

The Red Shoes
@ Music Box Theatre

Monday felt a lot shittier than it actually was. It wasn't very cold, but it might as well have been. I was slogging my way through the end-of-semester doldrums, having just completed a final which I was forced to wait half an hour to begin. Also, I had gotten back an assignment I thought for sure I was done with (it's a 100 level course, lady. If you want a works cited page, put that in the assignment sheet. It's a blowoff.) But the sojourn would not wait. The Red Shoes at the Music Box was on tap, showing at 5 and 8 (and for the MB's new discounted Monday ticket price of $5!) I walked out of class at 4:30, seemingly bound for the five o'clock show. My trusty iPhone calculated I would arrive at 5:05 via CTA. I took that as a challenge. I zipped up Washington, down the tunnel to the Red Line and made it down the steps... just in time to watch a train bound for Howard pulling slowly away. I cursed. (Specifically, I said "F*ck.")

This, plus the annoying developments at class, was enough to officially put me in a 'bad mood,' which is pretty rare for me. I hated every perfect, painted, peacoated yuppie mannequin in that tunnel, cooing emptily into their blackberrys about dinner reservations and primping themselves. I wanted to punch the sing-songy "spaare change, maaaaan" homeless guy standing a couple feet behind me. And when the next train north finally came and I squeezed in, every loudly rattling fixture in that train car made me want to smash the hell out of it with a ball-peen hammer. It did not look good. I stepped of the Red Line at Addison at 4:59. There was no way I could walk it. I needed a bus to save me, as I had to cut up a good 5 or 6 blocks to Southport. And there it was! Right as I came through the doors... four carlengths away and pulling out of sight. Again.

I smiled and stood, quietly enraged. These are the CTA moments. God. F*cking. Damnit. 5 o'clock was not happening. Even worse.. that was the bus I needed to get home. Seething, I waited for the next one. The wind picked up, of course, and it got colder. I put the closest thing I had to metal on in my headphones. I resolved to go home and catch the 8 o'clock. Via (*gasp*) my CAR.

Having a car in Chicago is something that I struggle with. In theory, I feel inclined to utilize CTA as often as possible, for reasons both economic and environmental. But tonight, I couldn't WAIT to get in that thing, crank up the heat, pop on a podcast, drive my happy ass warmly and quickly down to the Music Box, park right in front, take ten steps and be inside. And that is exactly what I did. Eco-babble be damned; sometimes you need to get a little selfish. Sometimes, you don't want the faux-company of the noisy, anonymous bus and train riders. Sometimes you just want to be left to your own crankiness.

The Red Shoes is a bonafide masterpiece- every inch as profound as The Seventh Seal or Rashoman, and twice as beautiful as both. The central conflict- the push and pull of love versus career, resonates more each time I see it. I may never have another chance to view it on the big screen, with its vibrant, lively colors splashed across a thirty-foot canvas. But its importance and beauty are absolutely certain to live forever. By the time it was over, any hint of my bad day bitching and moaning had long melted away. The dancing and the music had lifted my spirits. Movies can do that to you sometimes. They offer humanity in a box--all the tender moments, none of the difficulties of all those disappointing, annoying reactions. Good, cheap medicine for discomforted souls.

Grade: A+

(images: click to enlarge)


7-7-7 (intro & Day 1)

A Serious Man
@ Landmark Century Cinema, Chicago

2009 had been another year of movies. Most of them solo.. But that's a different story. I had not at all reluctantly come to the realization during the course of the year that movies were to forever be, if not in some way a vocation (a guy can dream, right?) then at least a full time hobby for me. For life. I'm a movie guy. That's my thing.

It had been a long year and a short year. I had learned a lot and probably already forgotten most of it. I had moved back home, enrolled in a University. I was making progress. Some days were great, and some were lousy. Same as it ever was. But I was moving ahead, and the year was ending.

As finals time approached, I looked ahead to a personal end of semester tradition of mine- I always see a movie on or around the last day of class. Last semester, I saw Gran Torino, which I paired with a sit-down meal at Portillo's so sinfully gluttonous that it may have single-handedly condemned me to purgatory (or at least to my size 38 waist.) With the semester nearing an end, I began to scout for a movie to see. So much stuff was playing, and I wanted to see it all. Fantastic Mr. Fox. A Serious Man. A restored print of The Red Shoes. After I considered each one, I felt less inclined to let it go. Somehow, it turned into a list. Well.. I guess I could see a couple.. right? Why shouldn't I? Hadn't I worked hard? Wasn't I entitled? Of course I was, goddamnit. The more I looked, the more I found. 3 Godfathers was showing at the Tivoli in Downers. Wow. Couldn't pass that up. And A Christmas Carol (my favorite- the Alastair Sim version) at Bank of America on Saturdaqy night. I stopped at seven, and it hit me- 7 movies in 7 days. I paused and thought a moment. Wow. What a trip. Could I? Should I? It was so damn tantalizing. There they were, lining themselves up in front of me. Somehow I knew I couldn't talk myself out of it. I rearranged the movies around my work schedule, and amazingly, everything still fit. It was a puzzle that refused to go unsolved. I had to do it.

I needed a haircut. I needed a workout (or seven.) I had the finishing touches to put on one final, and another I hadn't even started. There was no milk in the fridge. I hadn't bought a single Christmas present, for anyone. And the contents of my bank account was rapidly approaching single digits. Could I even afford it? It didn't matter. None of it mattered. It was time to go to the movies. The schedule was set. No backing down. I would begin on Sunday.

Thanks to a couple of slow-as-molasses customers at work, who kept me a little later than I had hoped, I got out a few minutes late, and after valiantly taking to the streets and catching what I've no doubt was the slowest bus in town (Diversey, heading east,) I arrived at the Landmark Century about ten minutes too late to catch the 5 o'clock showing. Damn. No worries; it was playing again at 7:30. But I had some time to kill. Rather than overhear the annoyingly urban-sheik conversations of the patrons and wait around bored at the Borders across the street, I went for a long walk. It was cold, but not uncomfortable. Just brisk. I walked up Broadway, past the carolers out in front of one of the pubs. Past Aldine, the street my father and his brothers and sisters grew up on. And past the Treasure Island grocery store, where he used to walk, to his first job when he was a young man. By some small miracle, it had survived all these years. Before I knew it I was at Irving Park, so I cut over and back down Clark. I could have hopped a bus, but I didn't I peeked into the Full Schilling to see if a friend was there (he wasn't, amazingly.) Then on past Wrigley Field, and the hordes of meatheads and sorority flakes clogging the bars, screaming at each other on their cell-phones and smoking $10 packs of cigarettes. Past the makeshift Christmas tree lots, in the parking lots of McDonald's and Jewels, hemmed in by wrought-iron fences and strung-up lights. I overhear a woman ask if they accept credit cards. "Nope.. cash only, ma'am." She smiled and darted her head around for an ATM.

Chicago felt small, and it was small. And it was a beautiful night.

When I took my seat for A Serious Man, I knew from its opening shot of falling snowflakes that my plan was a good idea. Endearingly enigmatic, typically and wonderfully Coens-esque in its precision and economy, the film captivated me. It was funny, too, if tempered with sadness, as indeed most great comedy is. Chalk up another fine one for the brothers from Minnesota.

I could have stopped there. It would have been fine. But I didn't. I had six more to go.

Grade: A

(stay tuned for six more entries to follow)


Log: Up

On second viewing, Up still strikes me the same- fun but flawed. The complete tonal shift that goes down when the the talking birds and talking dogs show up remains a big problem for me. While I admit that these bits are some of the best and funniest in the movie (Doug in particular is hilarious and adorable, and easily the best character in the movie,) it knocks me off balance just enough to put a kink in my enjoyment.

Great Pixar, like great Disney as a whole, makes its living on hearty helpings of pathos, and while it tries to bookend it on the front and back, Up's middle stretch is pretty much pure comedy. While I give them big props for stepping outside of their box, what we end up with is basically a Saturday morning cartoon on steroids; it goes great with a bowl of Cookie Crisp, but by the afternoon you'll be ready for bigger and better things.

PS- Disney/Pixar Exec's: I understand your (greedy) rationale, but not including the short film (the beautiful Partly Cloudly) on your Netflix DVD copies is nothing less than a cardinal sin. For shame.


Log: The Relic

The Relic is a real relic, alright. An artifact of a bygone era when movies had the balls to go for an R rating on the basis of language and gore alone. I remember it fondly... (**dream hands, tinkling sound..**)

The year was 1997. After her spectacular star-making turn in Big Top Pee-Wee, Penelope Ann Miller had flirted briefly with stardom at the dawn of the 90's, with roles in The Freshman and Carlito's Way. But with the breakout success of TV's "The X-Files," along with the dino-sized hit of Jurassic Park a few years before, a brief (but glorious) genre of B movie silliness had been born. The various cinematic gems/time capsules this movement produced, titles such as Sphere and Congo (both Michael Crichton adaptations,) as well as The Ghost and the Darkness, Contact, and Outbreak, were mainly action-y guy movies, either with a sci-fi/gore spin, or a creepy cool vibe with the requisite monster twist.

Producers were hungry to get their hands on the next Crichton, and here they stumbled onto the work of Douglas Preston and Lincold Child, and their series of novels based on the character of Pendergast. So what's the first thing they do? DELETE THE MAIN CHARACTER. I never read the books, but even so it's obviously an amazingly blockheaded move. Penelope Anne Miller is hot in that just-right, Dana Scully sort of way. In fact, the whole thing plays (as was no doubt intended) like a spooky/goofy "X-Files" episode.

Director Peter Hyams was a mini-fixture of this 90's scene (he also directed Time Cop and End of Days,) and rightly so, and his contemporary, Roland Emmerich, has continued to carry the torch. Every single scene in The Relic is lifted from something better, but the preferred franchise seems to be Aliens (and actually, the two films share a producer.) There's a monster at the end, and lots of ominous moments in the dimly-lit after hours of an old museum (Chicago's Field Museum, in fact.) But mostly it's just a lot of shots of people evaluating scientific data and looking through microscopes. Science is cool, kids. Or at least it was then.

The genre quickly spun off into the similarly short-lived "disaster flick" boom (think Twister, Volcano, Dante's Peak) and was lost forever. Not long thereafter, Duchovny left "The X-Files," and the genre had come full circle. This film is forgotten now, as are the rest of the films of this short-lived burst. In fact, you can't even get The Relic on DVD any more, unless you get it on a bargain-bin double feature flipper-disc with Pet Semetary 2. But I remember them all. And oh, what a time it was. (**end dream sequence**)

(even more appropriate: I watched this on Laserdisc!)

Now.. what's this about Avatar? Oh... I see. Never mind.